It was surely no coincidence that Share Liverpool FC chose their relaunch on the day that the club itself confirmed the details of a refinancing deal that was the financial equivalent of using a used sausage roll packet as a form of birth control. The vultures have been circling at Anfield for some time now, but while Gillett and Hicks have managed to defer the very worst that could happen for them, but serious questions remain over their medium to long term future. The Royal Bank of Scotland and the American bank Wachovia, in the current climate, could be forgiven for taking no prisoners in their deal with the club. They agreed, eventually, to extend the club’s credit, but at an immediate cost to the owners. Gillett and Hicks have to raise £60m in the next year – two-thirds of it immediately and the rest later in the year.
During the summer Gillett relieved himself of his majority share in the NHL club Montreal Canadiens, a deal which should make this somewhat easier, but the very fact that this debt needed to be restructured is an indicator of the extent to which their time in charge of the club has been a failure. Liverpool Football Club probably remains in the top five football – ugh – “brands” in the world, and their inability to maintain their promise to not load any debt onto the club itself and the death of their planned move from Anfield (at this moment time, I am only slightly less likely to move into a brand new, 60,000 capacity stadium than Liverpool are) says a lot about the lunacy of football financing. One of the top five – ugh, again – “brands” in the world, and they seem unable to be able to turn a profit on it. It’s enough to make one wonder why the rest of them are even bothering.
Share Liverpool FC, however, remains active. Their plan to find 100,000 people likely to part with £5,000 in order to buy the club always seemed to be on the optimistic side, but the reduction of that price to £500 and the subsequent widening of the potential base from which they can start makes the project seem more likely than it did. In addition to this, larger investors and commercial partners will be sought to raise the remainder of the capital required to purchase the club and run it as a community club in the same way that Bayern Munich and Barcelona are on the continent. The technicalities of the deal avoid bank loans or loading debt onto the club at a time that such a move would be even more dangerous and it expensive than it was two years ago.
Liverpool Football Club has reached a junction in its future, and the supporters of the club can now have a say in which route they take, should they choose to get involved. Between themselves or in groups, they can claim to be attempting to forge a new, sustainable future for their club. The alternative, inertia, will see more of the same at the very top of the club. More attempts at restructuring, more money bleeding out of the club in interest payments that it was never necessary for the club to take on for any reason other than to facilitate the take-over of the club itself. Anyone criticising the Share Liverpool scheme would do well to consider that before declaring its protagonists to be fruitcakes would do well to consider to circumstances that led to such a bid being so necessary. Gillett and Hicks may have applied a stickng plaster to Liverpool’s immediate funding problems for the time being, but The Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia will get their pound of flesh in the end. The question of whose flesh it will be remains up in the air, for now.